Up the street from me lived two elderly folks, a happily married man and wife. I don’t remember their names and in fact am not sure that I ever knew them in the first place but I remember them fondly. They were always dressed to a tee and acted proper. I recall seeing their newspapers by the road for trash pickup (years before recycling was heard of), how they were neatly folded and stacked and tied from all sides. I remember how he in bow tie and she in her Sunday finest would walk out of their nice but modest home, which was always picture perfect and he holding the car door open for her as she entered the car, then gently closing it for her before they set out on their ride. Time slowed down for them, the speed limit was in full force and never exceeded. They would drive to the market for supplies, one bag at a time, perhaps so they could have an excuse to get out together.
He was the fixer, she was the cook. They were nice and proper. I recall filling in for a friend who delivered papers and finding 3 cookies on the outside pie shelf. I ignored them at first as they were not my concern; when the back door opened and she still dressed in her finest let me know that the cookies were left there for me as a treat while I delivered the papers. We talked for a few moments before warm smiles sailed away, she back into her kitchen; mine off to the next house. The cookies didn’t last long enough to cool.
I never really saw them after that, not in a cookie getting capacity anyway but I watched them from afar. I grew older, as did they; their once proud stance became more and more bent. Their oft taken rides became less frequent but the walks he took to the mailbox still required his bowtie, friendly waive and smile. Oh how I admired them; they had a love that transcended time. Though youth had long ago left them, I am sure that with every glance they saw each other in their prime. Their smiles and their love never weakened even when their rides became but a memory.
Eventually I noticed some changes in their home. It just felt different when I drove by, I can’t really explain it but it had changed without being physically different. I came to realize it was the absence of the tied papers, bow tie and walks to the mailbox. One day I noticed siding being torn off the house and a large expansion being built. I wondered for a moment if perhaps they had children or some type of caretaker to join them. Soon I realized that they were no more, a new generation was making this into a home. I wonder if the outdoor pie shelf remains.
Life is not a gift but a loan that we never know when the owner will come back to collect. Theirs came due and I would love to imagine that when their lives came to an end, that they were collected together, or at least close to one another. I do know that their love never faded.
Such are the lives of all of us. We have only so long in which to toil at making an impact. Some of us spend too little time doing that nothing ever amounts. Some of us spend so much time doing that when collection time comes we realize that our life’s work was literally work, we spent so little time being, that the world may know us for what we did but will likely never know us for who we were.
When working with our clients I feel it important to focus on such matters. If they should leave this world tomorrow, would they be satisfied? If they had a hundred years to go, would they have built a world not with their hands but with their experiences? Would there be a monument to love and to life or simply a list with many checks upon it?
Setting goals can be paramount. As for me, well, I have worked 7 days a week for as long as I can remember and though I have no monetary riches of which to speak; I feel I have had at least a small impact on the community. My son is now grown, engaged and a college graduate as is his fiancé. They both speak of going to graduate school to become licensed clinicians and to work for me. I am not sure how I feel about that. I mean, part of me is proud that they would want to follow me, but I also want so much more for them. I want them to see things I have never seen, take trips that are for fun and not for work, to sleep in, to dream without feeling obligated to build what is in their mind.
My wife is now in graduate school, she too has caught my “illness” and plans on joining me in this program that I have created. She is so talented and hard working and makes cookies that remind me of the lady that started my story. I daydream that soon my 7 day weeks, 10, 12, 14 hour days will reduce, that the structure will have been built and some of the work handed over to others. I see signs that this is approaching as new sets of hands join mine when constructing the new offices, planting the fields and planning the future of the program.
Watching nails enter the wood that I have not hammered is weird but satisfying. I do not have to do everything on my own after all. I need to let go and let others in; let them share the dream and some of the work. I find myself thinking of days gone past; when I met my wife and how we have grown together. I do not stand quite as straight as I once did; Nana would say that at times I walk like a ruptured duck, but I carry on. I still find myself lost in her eyes. She is still that young lady who was full of piss and vinegar, who was afraid of no one. That grabbed her camera and set off alone and unaided to take pictures of the Klan when they were holding a rally nearby. She was unshakable as she attempted to get them with their hoods lifted so she could expose the haters behind the hate. She is still the lady who inspired me to try art and try to have a more rounded life by taking occasional days off to have day trips and the occasional week away. Some of my best memories are our drives, though she does not like to have the door opened for her and is just as likely to do the driving as I am.
Our world is not our own. We simply borrow it for a time and hopefully leave it better than we found it. Our story could be someone else’s but with some minor differences. It is important that we as clinicians and they as clients keep that in mind from time to time.
Though time is passing and I lack the outdoor pie shelf, I dream that I one day I get to spend that kind of time with those I hold so dear. I am willing to make the changes necessary to better insure that they occur. It is scary but necessary and I know that all that is necessary may be scary, as we are attempting to go into the unknown, the uncomfortable; much like our clients do in every session.
We may not change the world. Our names may never be known but our actions however small can and often do make a lasting impression. Even 3 cookies on a pie shelf.
Warren Corson III (Doc Warren) is a counselor, writer and the clinical & executive director of Community Counseling of Central CT and Pillwillop Therapeutic Farm (www.docwarren.org).